Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kinzer: Surge Diplomacy, Not Troops, in Afghanistan, Dec 9, 2008

by Robert Naiman

USA Today reports that Gen. McKiernan - top U.S. commander in Afghanistan - “has asked the Pentagon for more than 20,000 soldiers, Marines and airmen” to augment U.S. forces. McKiernan says U.S. troop levels of 55,000 to 60,000 in Afghanistan will be needed for “at least three or four more years.” He added: “If we put these additional forces in here, it’s going to be for the next few years. It’s not a temporary increase of combat strength.”

We should have a vigorous national debate before embarking on this course. Contrary to what one might think from a quick scan of the newspapers, there are knowledgeable voices questioning whether increasing the deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is in our interest, or is in the interest of the Afghan people.

Bestselling author and former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer argues the opposite in this five minute video:

Kinzer argues that sending more U.S. troops is likely to be counterproductive. It’s likely to produce more anger in Afghanistan, and more anger is likely to produce more recruits for the Taliban. A better alternative would surge diplomacy instead, reaching out to people who are now supporting the Taliban.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very different forces, argues Kinzer. The Taliban has deep roots in Afghan society. Many of the warlords allied with the Taliban are not fanatic ideologues.

Afghanistan is a place of fluid loyalties, Kinzer notes. A warlord allied with the Taliban may not be anti-American, or if he is today, he need not be tomorrow. We should take advantage of these fluid loyalties, and try to follow the diplomatic solution that Afghans and Afghan leaders are advocating.

Almost all the money in Afghanistan fueling the insurgency comes from the Afghan poppy crop, the source of most of the world’s heroin, Kinzer notes. We’re trying to crush that poppy-growing culture in an impossible way, Kinzer says. Burning and spraying poppy fields will never achieve that goal. All that does is impoverish Afghans and make them more angry at us.

The entire Afghan poppy crop is worth four billion dollars a year. We’re now spending $4 billion a month on our war in Afghanistan. Let’s take one of those months, and buy the entire poppy crop, suggests Kinzer. That way we’re not impoverishing Afghans, we’re putting money in their pockets instead of shooting them and burning down their houses. We’d use some of that to make morphine for medical use and we could burn the rest.

If we continue to act as if there’s a military solution in Afghanistan, we’re just going to get further dragged down into quagmire. There is a way out, Kinzer says. We can follow a much more sophisticated diplomatic and political strategy in a way that will reduce the ability of the Taliban to attract young recruits. What we’re doing now is the opposite, fueling the insurgency. Sending fewer troops to Afghanistan, not more, is needed to stabilize Afghanistan.

If you agree with Stephen Kinzer, why not send a note to that effect to President-elect Obama?

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.

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William deB. Mills said...

Nasir, this is an article that definitely deserves to be reprinted; unfortunately, its conclusions do not seem to be getting the attention they deserve. (Someone please tell me I am wrong!)

Having spent the last 18 months studying the confrontation between Washington and Islam, one of the conclusions I reached was: "Washington—not just the neo-cons—remains focused on pursuing a 'war on terror,' evidently desiring only to terminate the tactic of opponents attacking civilians without any consideration of why they might wish to do that in the first place. This emphasis on changing the opponent’s tactics without addressing his concerns or the concerns of the far broader mass of (so-far) moderate Moslems will ensure a flow of new recruits for Islamic extremism, fuelling this confrontation into the foreseeable future."

I wrote those words in August. Despite the election, I still don't see much evidence of any learning process in Washington.

Mullah Omar, in the speech you put on your blog recently, seemed to be hinting at willingness to compromise - provided that the West announced a pullout plan. Do you think this should be taken seriously as a possible way forward?

Dr Nasir Khan said...

Dear Dr Mills,

I quite agree with you that the article needs widest possible publicity in the interest of peace and commonsense, both acutely needed to address the issues that confront us.

Again, the conclusions you have drawn after your researach are worthy of serious consideration by those who wield the reins of power in Washington and by reason of that they control the destiny of Muslims of the Middle Eastern region. However, if we take into account how the American imperialist policy functions through wars, exploitation and false propaganda to further its economic and strategic interests in the Islamic countries, then our analyses will be grounded in reality. What is often neglected is the fact that there are particular interests that control the American political arena, and such a pattern of relationships and domination is hardly prone to change because there will be some new faces in Washington.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned the country is devastated by the long war. By injecting more more troops and weapons in the country, America will only prolong the agony of the Afghan people. The alternative is to talk to the resistance leaders including Mulla Omar as suggested by the Karzai government.